As one of Variety’s Power of Women honorees, Jessica Chastain will be at Friday’s lunch in support of her chosen cause, Planned Parenthood. For this week’s issue, the actress spoke about women in Hollywood, encouraging female directors and what scares her most about Donald Trump.
It’s 2017, and we’re still talking about how Hollywood doesn’t treat women the same as men. Why is this still an issue?
It’s depressing in terms of everything. It’s depressing in terms of women directors. But I think the problem is not just that. Yes, we need female filmmakers. We also need to recognize more women go to the movie theaters than men. More women play video games than men. There’s a huge audience out there that wants stories about women. Yes, we need more women in power positions, but also in terms of critics. If you have a film that’s from a feminine point of view and 90 percent of the critics are men, that’s not diversity in that industry. You have to look at why. What are the obstacles that women are facing to break into the industry? And it bleeds into everything–studio heads, female directors, female cinematographers.
In your own career, did you feel like you missed out on opportunities because of your gender?
In any industry when you’re the minority on set, then you’re going to feel like you’re going to work a little harder to be seen. In the beginning, when I would be on set, there was a strange dynamic that would come to me. I wouldn’t necessarily go directly to a director and talk about what my character needed or what wasn’t working in a scene or my idea. I noticed that people were more willing to listen to those ideas if I approached the director with my male co-star and especially if he brought it up to the director. But now, it’s not like that. Now I think the people who hire me know it’s a collaboration and they want to collaborate with me.
Was this around “Tree of Life”?
It was definitely not that. Terry [Malick] is the most evolved human being on the planet.
He emerged out of hiding last month to speak at SXSW.
Was everyone freaking, like peeing themselves? No one took pictures, right?
Some of us did.
Oh no. Are you serious? Because he never does interviews. He hates pictures. When we did the “Tree of Life” in Cannes, he didn’t walk the red carpet in the beginning. It was Brad [Pitt], Sean [Penn] and I because he was very shy. At the end, he came out to join us, and he was dressed in his tuxedo, and the video camera didn’t even shoot him. The video camera went straight to the ground, because they were saying, “Don’t shoot Terry; he doesn’t want to be on camera.”
How do you choose a role?
Lately, if the character in some way defies the status quo or the expectation, the stereotype of what a woman is supposed to be. That’s really interesting to me. Also, creating representations in the media that push society forward, that’s very important to me. You know playing commander Lewis in “The Martian” or Murph in “Interstellar” was very exciting because women in the past have not excelled in science, because I think they didn’t have representations of themselves in the media. It wasn’t until the ’80s we sent a women into space; it was like 20 years after Russia did. I think little girls are born knowing they can be whatever they want to be and society brainwashes them to think that’s not true. What’s that movie that I love? I’m bringing it up, “Zootopia.” That little bunny wants to be a cop and her parents say to her, “There’s never been a bunny cop in the world.” She looks at that and responds, “I guess I’ll be the first.” We need more representations in media of women doing things that society expects them not to do.
Do you there are enough parts for women in blockbusters?
I think the smart people that are making the tentpoles are realizing the power of the women’s audience. Look at what’s happening with “Beauty and the Beast” right now. Look at what’s happening with “Hidden Figures.” If you’re look at animation, they are becoming more powerful for women characters than when I was growing up. The people in charge are understanding the commerce involved in telling diverse stories.
How can the lack of women directors be improved?
A few years ago, I told myself I’m going to try to work with a female filmmaker every year. I’m not looking at it in terms of, “I’m going to push my career.” I just think about society. I just want to do whatever I can to help push us forward. If that means I’m exhausted but there’s an opportunity to work with a female filmmaker and shine a light on this talent, how incredible.
Are there enough female directors to choose from?
It’s very hard. I started my production company Freckle Films. My goal is to hire female writers, to give opportunities to people who haven’t had opportunities. We need to take risks on people who haven’t even gotten to that level yet. I’m now trying to figure out maybe there’s something I could do where I start to do short films with female filmmakers who have never made a film before.
What is your biggest fear about the Trump administration?
The thing I’m concerned with the most is that good people will become crazy. Do you know what I mean? I believe that energy is contagious. If you have vileness, if you have negativity, it’s easy to stoop to that level. That’s my biggest fear: society becomes what the administration is spewing. Not that they agree with the policies but they fight back with violence. I don’t think that’s a healthy place to be.
There’s been a lot of negativity online.
Even with myself I noticed on social media, “Is there a way to tweet or retweet in a positive way?” To contribute to mental health rather than just anger. I try to focus on hope and what we can do to change, where we’re headed in the future. Sometimes you need an adversary to really understand your power. Perhaps what’s happening now is people who were taking their freedoms for granted, young people who were asleep in terms of women’s health care and the right to choose – I’m hoping they are waking up and understanding just because the majority of their lives has been pretty easy so far, it’s something you need to protect.